Saturday, July 20, 2024

Dummies guide to Dolby Atmos and DTS – read this before you buy a soundbar


Why a Dummies guide to Dolby Atmos and DTS? Because 99% of the reviews we read get it wrong and 100% of users are equally confused by the terminology.

So we developed the ‘Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos and DTS’ to demystify and clarify just what you are getting when you buy a Dolby Atmos TV or a soundbar expecting that it will magically have Dolby Atmos 3D sound. Chances are that it will be nothing more than a stereo device.

Audiophiles can stop reading the Dummies guide to Dolby Atmos and DTS now. This guide is about Dolby Atmos TVs and soundbars – we will add dedicated Dolby Atmos AV receivers later.

What is Dolby Atmos sound?

Think of Dolby Atmos as 128 microphones spread around, up, over and back from a movie sound stage. This allows movie makers to capture sound movement as it goes at the speed of sound from microphone to microphone (phasing sound). So, if a plane flies overhead you hear it tracking its course ‘up there’ while other sounds on different ‘planes’ still occur. It is 3D, immersive sound.

Technically it expands on existing surround sound systems by adding ‘height’ channels, allowing sounds to become 3D objects. Creators have a total of 128 channels routed to up to 64 speakers.

But I can get Dolby Atmos on a smartphone – even a toaster!

Dolby Atmos has become the gold standard in 3D sound and it has expanded its reach from movies and music to smartphones, gaming and even appliances – yes you can get a toaster with Dolby Atmos.

But it has become one of the most misused and abused marketing terms. Something with Dolby Atmos does not have to do anything more than decode the Dolby Atmos metadata stream and allocate it to the physical speakers it has.

It is ridiculous to think that a Dolby Atmos equipped smartphone with two mismatched speakers (earpiece and down-firing) can produce an expansive sound stage. Sorry but that is Easter Bunny territory.

This simply does not happen – no two speaker system can add height!

Similarly, a TV with Dolby Atmos processing simply down-mixes content to the physical number of speakers – usually 2.0 or 3.0 channels. Again it is marketing BS to claim it has Dolby Atmos sound when all it has is a decoder chip.

But I want better sound

TVs universally have poor sound because that is all they need to deliver free-to-air TV that has PCM 1.0 (mono) or stereo 2.0 sound. Most have tiny 50mm speakers that on the 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response scale get around 1-6kHz (mid-to-upper mid) for clearer dialogue.

Any non-Dolby Atmos TV can benefit from a 2.1 (stereo and sub-woofer) or 3.1 (stereo, centre and sub-woofer) soundbar that uses its own digital signal processor to add a bit of volume and some bass from say 60Hz and treble to 10kHz.

But as we start streaming content more to 4K TVs that now cost the same as 1080p TVs we are starting to realise that TV sound is CRAP.

Enter the world of Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, DTS:X and DTS and more. And you know what – 99.99% of these so-called Dolby Atmos TVs only have a decoding chip and down-mix to whatever the TV speaker system handles or pass through the signal to an external soundbar./.


But my TV is Dolby Atmos. How do I get true Dolby Atmos sound?

Remember that few if any Dolby Atmos TVs come with a Dolby Atmos speaker system capable of 3D sound. You have to upgrade by adding a Dolby Atmos soundbar or AV receiver and speakers.

That means a choice of Dolby Atmos 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, 7.1.4 and now 9.1.4.

Ebenezer Robbins
Ebenezer Robbins
Introvert. Beer guru. Communicator. Travel fanatic. Web advocate. Certified alcohol geek. Tv buff. Subtly charming internet aficionado.

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